Regional efforts to expand the Island network of shared-use paths is taking shape in down-Island towns. On Tuesday, residents and town officials in Tisbury, along with members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, offered feedback on three conceptual plans for the Beach Road corridor.
In 2009 the MVC, along with the joint transportation committee (representing all six Island towns), began looking at ways to better connect the off-road paths that span the Island. MVC executive director Mark London said the priority at the time was to link Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven and the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
The commission hired the engineering firm Greenman-Pederson Inc. of Babylon, N.Y., which determined that the portion of Beach Road extending about 1,000 feet from the Five Corners intersection to the Wind’s Up watersports shop was the area most in need.
John Diaz, vice president and director of engineering at GPI, presented three conceptual plans for that portion of Beach Road to the selectmen on Tuesday. Members of the MVC, along with representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the road and independently hired Mr. Diaz in 2013, were present at the meeting. A public meeting in May provided initial feedback for the project.
In a separate project, the Parsons Corporation is working with the town to develop a bike path that crosses the drawbridge from Tisbury to Oak Bluffs. Mr. Diaz is working with the town of Oak Bluffs to extend the bike path there as well.
The first concept presented on Tuesday features five-foot bike lanes and five and a half-foot sidewalks on both sides of the road, accessible by a crosswalk near the Shell Gas Station. The second and third concepts feature a single, 10-foot shared-use path on the south side of the road, with the third concept including a five-foot sidewalk on the north side. All three options include curbs, shoulders and 11-foot travel lanes for motor vehicles.
Mr. Diaz plans to continue refining the plans this summer and return in October with options for the selectmen to choose from.
Responding to Tisbury resident Chris Fried’s concerns for the safety of children and inexperienced bicyclists, Mr. Diaz said that either a shared-use path or a separate bike lane would be an improvement over the current situation. “Giving them five-foot striped bike lanes is certainly better than what they have driving in sand now,” he said.
His main concern was the likelihood of interference from pedestrians on the south side of the road, where several commercial properties are built almost at the edge of the right of way. One or two feet on either side of the road would need to be taken by eminent domain in order to make room for the additional shoulders and paths.
Mr. London was concerned about how the project might affect the roadside properties, and he hoped the changes could be kept within the right of way. Expanding the road even two or three feet could significantly affect the properties that are already close to the road, he said. He suggested that 10.5-foot road lanes might be adequate.
Liz Wild, who owns two properties on Beach Road, warned of the danger of increased bike traffic in the project area. She said there were nine curb cuts on either side of the road between the Five Corners and The Net Result, with traffic in and out all day.
“We’ve had two accidents in the last two weeks with bicycles and vehicles trying to turn into a property and a vehicle not seeing it,” she said. An earlier concept included a path that ran south along Lagoon Pond and then west along War Memorial Park. Planning board member Cheryl Dobel favored that route over the others. “I question taking the shared-use path all the way up to Five Corners, because then it ends and where are we leaving these people?” she said.
Island architect Sam Dunn had submitted to the selectmen his own proposal for Beach Road, but did not have time to present on Tuesday. He suggested burying the utilities under the sidewalk.
Mass DOT engineer Pamela Haznar said the utility companies and the state would share the cost of relocating the utility poles, but only to the extent necessary to complete the project. She said burying the lines would require additional funding from the town. Mass DOT project manager Tom Courier said the process of “undergrounding” utility lines can cost up to $2 million per mile, per utility.
Discussions surrounding the burial of utilities has been ongoing in the town. Selectman Tristan Isreal saw the Beach Road project as a way to address the issue. “I think we should take a hard look when this is going on, or we’ve lost a huge opportunity,” he said. “It’s been real important to people in this town for a long time.”
Larry Gomez, chairman of the town finance committee, said a conduit system is already in place from when the town installed a new sewer system. Town administrator John (Jay) Grande added that the utility lines associated with the bridge project were also intended to go underground.Selectman Melinda Loberg stressed the need for the project to agree with the town’s other long-term initiatives, including a visualization process by the planning board and traffic mitigation efforts.
“It’s a much bigger discussion that the town needs to have,” she told the Mass DOT representatives at the meeting. “And that’s going to be a hard challenge for us. We haven’t really got a good plan for this area yet, and we’re hoping to develop one. But we may not be able to do the big plan on your timetable.”
Mr. Israel suggested holding one more public meeting before October, “just to brainstorm and talk internally.” Mr. Diaz said he would continue incorporating public comments and documents as he works to refine the plans. Federal funding for the project is expected in 2017.
In other business on Tuesday, selectmen approved the appointment of Martha Yukevich to the town housing trust and Noreen Baker to the cultural council.